Feb 06

The Humility Ratio — a Litmus Test for Persuasive Copy

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.

— Rick Warren

It can be easy to be tied up in thoughts of your own company, especially if you are a startup. You’ve lived, breathed, and sacrificed for this place, potentially for years. Startups are also hard. Here’s the difficult part about selling that vision though:

Customers are fairly indifferent to how smart or noble you are, and how much you’ve sacrificed. They don’t have time for your mission. Customers are just busy, so they come to you for solutions to their problems. Your company exists to serve them.

What a downer, right? You can pour your heart and soul into a product, and all they care about is whether or not it will save them a few bucks or time, or make them more productive or happy?


A website is often your biggest opportunity to show that your company fulfills customers’ needs and/or desires. Does it do that? Here’s a good starting point to test:

1.) Look at key pages of your website. Count how many times you see “we”, “our”, or “us” in the copy, in reference to your company.
2.) Now, look at those same pages, and count how many times you see “you” or “your”.
3.) Divide #1 by #2. We will call this “the Humility Ratio”.

It turns out, “you” is one of the most persuasive words in the English language. People are more receptive when you address them instead of talking about yourself. That’s why successful companies that have a lot to brag about like Toyota to Apple still have solid Humility Ratios. Customers don’t care that these companies took painstaking care to ensure reliability — they care that their car or computer works when it is supposed to.

So, what’s your company’s Humility Ratio?

(pic borrowed from the eternally amazing Kathy Sierra)